From the moment I indicated interest in volunteering with Projects Abroad, I had the opportunity to ask any questions or voice any concerns I had about the trip. There was a volunteer advisor I could speak with, people from the travel team, and even local staff members from the country of Sri Lanka. I felt like I was taken care of throughout the entire process -- from planning to the actual trip -- and that Projects Abroad is a step above many of the organizations I've read and heard about.
As for the trip, it was -- pardon the cliche -- the trip of a lifetime. This was my first time traveling in a foreign country "alone", yet as a result of this trip I now have the travel bug! I lived with a host family in the city of Panadura, about an hour south of the capital city of Colombo. I lived with 2 other volunteers for most of the 1st month (a German girl and a British girl). The host mother (called "Auntie" as a sign of respect), always made sure we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready for us, and that we were comfortable in the house. Some of my fondest memories are the conversations around the table; from talking about silly things to cultural exchange to life stories -- my housemates and host family were one of the fundamental things that made my experience amazing. In addition, about once every week or so, a staff member from Projects Abroad would come and speak with me privately. This allowed me to voice any concerns I had with the experience to them.
There were about 10 other volunteers in my town when I arrived, and every day after work we would get together and do some type of activity: whether it was walking around town, visiting the local beach, socializing at a juice bar, or just relaxing and playing games at one of our homes. The weekends were reserved for traveling around the island with volunteers from other cities.
Regarding the "work", it was amazing. I volunteered at an IT Center that was about a 10 minute walk from my host home. At the Center, there was a supervisor (a local who worked for Projects Abroad) who spoke English as well as Sinhalese (the official language of Sri Lanka). The main students were children, eager to learn about computers. I was provided with a curriculum (worked on by previous volunteers) that had been written as a guideline for the students to follow, but I was encouraged to go "off-book" if needed and even write my own lessons if I felt the need. Many of the students spoke some English, but if there was a major concept I didn't think they understood, I would show them on the computer, have them repeat the action, then have the supervisor translate the reasoning behind the particular action. I felt that this type of reinforcement led to the children absorbing more from the lessons.
I would highly recommend volunteering with Projects Abroad. The experience and friendships that I've gained due to this trip will continue to shape and define my life in the future. From the staff support to the host family, to the students I taught and volunteers I met, it was definitely the trip of a lifetime!
There needed to be more computers for the students at the IT Center as sometimes in the afternoons some of the students had to share a screen. But, before I left I was told that by the summer there would be many more.